Run, Don’t Walk!

run fast

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalm 63:1-8 (9-11), 98; Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Acts 8:26-40; Luke 11:1-13


The Acts of The Apostles, chronicling the formation and earliest days of the church, tells a story of an ever-widening circle of inclusion.

Philip the Evangelist was one of seven people selected by the Apostles to care for poor Christians in Jerusalem. One day, Acts tells us, an angel instructed Philip to go to a certain place. In that place was a eunuch who served as a court official to Kandake, queen of Ethiopia. The Spirit urged Philip to run to the chariot where the eunuch was reading aloud a passage from Isaiah. Philip offered to explain the passage, and the eunuch gratefully accepted. After Philip used this scripture to share the good news of Jesus, the eunuch was eager to be baptized. When they saw some water, the eunuch stopped the chariot, then Philip baptized him and went on his way leaving a joyous convert behind.

Because of their modified genitals, eunuchs were considered impure under the Levitical code and therefore not allowed full participation in the life of the temple. They could wait in the outer courtyard with women and non-Jews, could but not go in with the other men. Baptism, by contrast, signified full participation in the body of Christ. This man was a Gentile, an African, and a member of an “impure” sexual minority, yet because of Christ, Philip eagerly welcomed him. Before you say, “well of course,” remember we still draw lines in the sand over Biblical interpretation. This type of inclusion was – and still is – radical.

Who are today’s eunuchs? Certainly there are parallels with the exclusion of the LGBT community, and churches continue to be some of the most racially segregated institutions in America. In most places, bilingual church services – including sign language – are a rarity. The list of human-made division goes on. Our exclusion may be less explicit, but our implicit lack of inclusion speaks volumes. Where are the Philips running to greet them? When we do encounter them, do we brand these present-day Philips as evangelists or heretics?

Did Jesus ever condemn anyone for being too inclusive? Rather than ignore our modern eunuchs, let’s run to them with the good news. The worst that can happen? Someone hears it.

Comfort: We’re all outsiders to someone. We’re all insiders to Christ.

Challenge: Start a discussion within your faith community about who you are intentionally or unintentionally excluding, and brainstorm ways to be more inclusive.

Prayer: God of love and abundance, teach me to see Christ in all your children.

Discussion: Who do you have trouble accepting into the body of Christ?

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Attitude of Abundance

GRASPFUTURE

Today’s readings (click below to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 88; 148, Genesis 17:15-27, Hebrews 10:11-25, John 6:1-15


Our culture promotes irony and cynicism. These can be useful and enlightening, but many times they simply mask an underlying state of fear. When push comes to shove, we tend to hoard the resources we have rather than trust them to God’s abundance. Even in faith communities simple optimism is often characterized as simple-mindedness.

God told Abraham and Sarah, at 100 and 90 years old respectively, they would conceive a child. Abraham laughed in disbelief. When their son was born, they did as God had instructed and named him Isaac, meaning “he laughs.” With God in the mix, irony became hope.

When thousands gathered at the Sea of Galilee to hear Jesus preach, he asked his disciple Philip where they could buy bread to feed everyone. We don’t know if Phillip laughed, but it’s easy to imagine a dismissive chuckle when he told Jesus they would need more than six months’ wages to buy enough food. And it seems likely there might have been some eye rolling when Andrew mentioned a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish. Yet from this tiny bit, upon Christ’s instructions, they managed to feed everyone with twelve baskets left over.

At first glance the common theme between these stories seem to be that God is most visibly present in the impossible. Unfortunately this idea pushes God outside our normal expectations into a realm where we can only experience his blessings through reality-warping events.

An important lesson in these stories is that God has created us not be starved by fear and doubt, but to feast on possibilities and faith. The approach we take affects the quality of our lives, and the lives of others. More than a simple “can-do” attitude, faith that God’s world is abundant opens us up to true generosity. If we stop worrying that what we have is not enough, we grow comfortable with being generous even in uncertain times. Individuals with this faith can have a positive impact, and communities that cultivate this attitude will find endless doors opening. Behind them is revealed God’s presence in our everyday lives.

The world teaches fear. An abundant faith – focusing not on scarcity and stinginess, but on hope and generosity – is countercultural and revolutionary. Live on the edge.

Comfort: You need less than you think you do. You can give more than you think you have.

Challenge: Embrace hope.

Prayer: Loving God, please help me to remember there is far more to your gifts in the world – seen and unseen – than I could ever comprehend. I will trust you. Amen.

Discussion: In what areas of your life – money, time, affection, etc. – do you take an approach of scarcity? How can you become more generous?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

 

God out of Nazareth

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab or window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, Genesis 4:17-26, Hebrews 3:1-11, John 1:43-51


Soon after Philip the apostle met Jesus, he found his friend Nathanael and said:”We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael replied: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Of course he was swayed once he actually met Jesus, but his initial skepticism is noteworthy.

The village of Nazareth did not have much of a reputation. It was small and relatively obscure. Suggesting the Messiah could emerge from Nazareth seemed ridiculous even to its own citizens, who repeatedly rejected Jesus and his teachings. Yet a Nazarene he was, defying all doubt and eclipsing all expectations.

It’s not fair, but the world pigeonholes people based on the circumstances of their birth. Inner city kids are thugs. Immigrants from the middle east are suspected terrorists. Women are less capable than men and men are less nurturing than women. Pretty people are stupid and nerds are lonely. Stereotypes  are endless. Like Nathanael we sometimes encounter someone who demolishes one of our biases, but many of them remain unchallenged. One might think that being subjected to a stereotype would make a person less likely to do the same to others, but it isn’t so. We all justify our own biases and the world is poorer for it.

Where is your Nazareth? It may be an actual place, like Detroit or Syria. It may lie in an opposing political or religious ideology. It could be buried in the pigmentation of someone’s skin cells.You may not be able to locate it easily, because it doesn’t necessarily stand out as a place you actively dislike, but perhaps a place you can casually dismiss. Nazareth is any place or circumstance you use as an excuse to invalidate a person or their voice.

Jesus overcame all the obstacles of his birth. So can we, because we are children of God. And we need to give others the same chance. Let us each work to examine and dismantle our prejudices so we can look at each other and see the face of Christ, Nazarene and Messiah.

Comfort: You are more than any label. You are a child of God.

Challenge: Ask a friend you trust what your biases are. Don’t argue with them about what they say, just listen with an open mind and heart.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to see you in all people, even when I don’t want to.

Discussion: What biases have you formerly held which you no longer hold?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!